Consumers today are oversaturated with information, making it difficult to produce advertising that can successfully cut through the cluttered sea of modern media. Fortunately, one of the most successful tactics for reaching prospective customers with your company’s message is also one of the easiest: word of mouth marketing.
Referrals and recommendations are among the most crucial tools in your marketing arsenal, especially for small businesses. In fact, a global study conducted by Nielsen found that 92% of consumers trust word of mouth, or recommendations, from friends and family above all other forms of advertising. It is hardly surprising, then, that organizations that experience dramatic growth often can attribute their success to word-of-mouth referrals.
What may be slightly more surprising is that these referrals often originate in equal proportions from employee connections and satisfied customers. Although providing an exemplary customer experience in order to convert customers to evangelists of your brand will always be key, you can also get prospective customers in the door through leveraging your employees’ personal relationships.
WHY YOUR EMPLOYEES ARE A PROMISING SOURCE OF REFERRALS
Every employee has preexisting community and family connections and immense potential to use them to build awareness of your business. Think of each employee as a marketing channel, and visualize the huge web of contacts that your employees can bring to your brand.
If you have 100 employees who have each worked with 10 potential customers and have strong connections to 20 other figures in each potential customer’s industry, that’s already 3,000 prospects that you can reach with little or no additional marketing spend. You can’t afford to waste an opportunity like that.
In addition, employee referrals are great sources of new hires. Employees hired based on referrals rank number one for quality, application-to-hire time, applicant-to-hire conversion rate, and retention. Applicants who are referred by current employees are, by definition, pre-vetted and better informed and therefore more likely to fit both the job requirements and the company culture. From the second a new employee who has been hired based on a referral from a current employee steps foot in your office, he or she is likely to be more engaged than other new employees.
The average employee has 150 contacts on social media networks. If you have 100 employees, you already have 15,000 potential candidates without posting even a single job.
ESTABLISH A NEW COMPANYWIDE MINDSET
In order to encourage your employees to give either type of referral (customer or employee), you must impress them. Fostering a positive work environment will encourage employees to be true evangelists of your company’s brand. Even if you have a bonus structure in place, an unhappy employee will be unlikely to recommend your business.
You must take concrete steps to fully leverage your internal team. Train your entire staff to think like marketers via company meetings and handbooks. Everyone in your company should be asking questions such as “How can I strengthen my sphere of influence within companies to which I am already connected?” and “How can I generate more word-of-mouth referrals for our company?”
You should also take the additional step of devising a formalized strategy for leveraging your team’s connections. Ask your employees (on a rotating basis) to contact key influencers and other connections via LinkedIn. Set up a schedule for employees to contribute new ideas and testimonials to the company blog. Develop a team networking calendar, and send your employees to after-work events, industry conferences, and trade shows.
Because we are all marketers in our own ways, make sure that when your employees arrive at networking events they are able to speak about your company’s USP. At TribalVision, we go over typical questions that may come up or objections that may need to be overcome. If, for example, one of our employees answers the question “So, tell me about TribalVision?” with “Oh, well, we’re a marketing firm,” the questioner will stop there. But if the employee instead responds, “We’re a fully strategic, aligned outsourced marketing department for organizations that need marketing expertise but don’t have it in-house,” the conversation may lead somewhere. Most of all, make the interaction fun!
Remember, this networking shouldn’t feel like work to your team, so make it fun for everyone involved. Use friendly contests, awarding prizes to the employee or team that generates the most referrals and new business opportunities from networking. Institute a bonus for each new customer or new hire referred by a current employee. When you get everyone on board and fired up, your employees will become your strongest brand ambassadors and a key marketing channel.
To begin, share the importance of employee referrals with your team in an email or company meeting. Many of your employees are likely unaware of the power that they hold and would be happy to be evangelists for your brand. Encourage your employees to think of any of their contacts for whom your product or service would be relevant, and give them the materials and training to influence that contact. Formalize a team networking calendar, and standardize the initiatives for referrals. Without a process in place, your referral program will most likely fizzle out over time. Next, ask your staff to share company happenings on social media. Shares and retweets of your company’s content can be invaluable when they come from your company’s own employees. You never know what potential customer or potential employee you may reach.